Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Get a View of the Past from the Capitol East Gazette

The Capitol East Gazette was published in the 1960s, which later became the DC Gazette and then the Progressive Review. The newspaper had a circulation of 15,000 in 1969. The online version is now searchable, which leads to many interesting discoveries.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Is Restoration Racist?

What are the historical origins of the restoration movement? Was it racist? Is it racist? I have gone back to the beginnings of the restoration movement on Capitol Hill around 1948, which is really very early compared to other areas like Brooklyn. In its 1948-49 plan, the Southeast Citizens' Association set out to promote the remodeling of older buildings to restore the prestige of the area. Working with other organizations, they held remodeling and repainting campaigns. They had early house tours. The Southeast Citizens' Association was an association of homeowners of "the Caucasian race." This Association was quite concerned about African Americans moving into certain areas. In the early 1950s, Elizabeth Kohl Draper wrote about her experiences bringing the restoration movement from Georgetown to Capitol Hill (1). Her very interesting article details who is renovating which blocks. For example:
Mrs. Frank Murray, living at 761 Tenth Street, S.E., has increased her holdings until she owns 25 pieces of property and 32 apartments. Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Wagner at 814 A Street have improved the entire block and are working with Mr. Parker in the 600 block of A Street. Mr. Harry Brogden, a Georgetown realtor, bought 130 Eleventh Street, S.E., in the famous Philadelphia Row and practically all of them are in good hands.
Many examples are very early cases of speculative/investment renovation, which is interesting because it is generally assumed that early restoration was done by individuals for their own use. But what might "good hands" mean? I would guess that all the individuals mentioned in her article were probably white and likely middle- or upper-middle class. The Southeast Citizens' Association actively supported racial housing covenants and worked to maintain white-dominant blocks, those blocks held in "good hands." Restoration was seen as a way to attract more white families to the area.

In SW DC, thousands of African Americans' homes were condemned as slums and demolished. DC was madly building public housing to house these and other households. The Southeast Citizens' Association was well-known for its opposition to public housing, since it was seen as African American housing (2). Elizabeth Kohl Draper talked about how the public housing authority in DC, the National Capital Housing Authority, wanted to buy land for public housing:
At present, the National Capital Housing Authority is trying to buy south of Virginia Avenue to make another project. If this happens, many old places that should be preserved will be torn down. If the housing project can be located elsewhere, the northern side of Virginia Avenue, Southeast will doubtless be restored by private enterprise. The entire length of New Jersey Avenue, S.E., should be restored. Some fine old houses are in the 1000 block of New Jersey Avenue, S.E., and if a group of private owners would secure and restore them, they will form an excellent unit. Many white people live in that section and should be encouraged to stay.
Was the restoration movement racist? Is the restoration movement racist?

(1) "Progress Report on the Restoration of Capitol Hill Southeast," Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Washington, DC, Vol. 1951/1952.
William R. Barnes. 1980. "A Battle for Washington: Ideology, Racism, and Self-Interest in the Controversy over Public Housing, 1943-1946," Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Washington, D.C., Vol. 50.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Poverty of Knowledge

A couple of days ago in the Post, Michael Gerson lamented the "poverty of solutions" in political debates, which revolve around ideology (the Tea Party's free market ideology vs. the Occupy Movement's rejection of capitalism) instead of talking about poverty and what to do about it. The article quickly sets aside the Occupy Movement and focuses on the fact that both political parties basically won't talk about poverty. Gerson argues that below-the-radar government programs have actually helped to reduce poverty -- welfare reform to reduce caseloads, food stamps, earned-income tax credit. Center-right and center-left politicians supporting these programs "take market forces seriously" and take government policy seriously. Gerson throws in: "The main challenge of poverty is not a lack of consumption but a lack of social capital -- measured in skills and values -- and of opportunity" and the poor's "failing community." Yet, welfare programs, in fact, do increase the incomes of and thus consumption by those living and working in poverty, which may be why they are so effective.

Gerson's argument works very well with some of the most cutting edge work in sociology done by Duke University professor David Brady. In his comparison of 18 Western democracies, Brady finds that welfare state generosity reduces poverty and therefore ending poverty is a political choice. The United States proportionately has more people living and working in poverty than the other 17 Western democracies because of political choices.

In contrast to Gerson, one should not only talk about the poor without also talking about the wealthy. As all social scientists know, one has to compare groups to figure out if there are any differences between them. The old studies of the "culture of poverty" and the "underclass" have been discredited because, as historian Alice O'Connor showed so brilliantly in her book Poverty Knowledge, scholars 1) studied only those living in poverty and not in comparison with those in other social classes and 2) focused on individual pathologies and welfare dependency, rather than on the economy and the opportunity structure. The wealthy and the poor are in fact relational to each other.

Different social classes and subclasses not only have different amounts of income and wealth, but they also have different social capital (networks) and cultural capital (education, artistic knowledge, etc) that they desperately seek to protect and expand so as to make themselves distinct from other social classes and to maintain their class status. In the Post, a book reviewer recently wrote:
More affluent parents face a different set of pressures. As it becomes increasingly difficult for middle-class families to transmit their class position to their children, many have come to regard childrearing - like the economy - as a zero-sum game, where they must pit their children against other people's offspring. This has encouraged parents to view their child as a project to be perfected and other children as a problem.
Affluent parents desperately want their children to be in the right school, which might mean taking a seat from a working class or low-income family. This form of opportunity hoarding works along with exploitation (not paying people enough) in a variety of venues, including education, housing, medical care, etc. As the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu showed, these class distinctions are further reinforced by lifestyles shaped by economic, social, and cultural capital. So, when one meets another person of one's subclass, one recognizes that person as one of us and feels physically comfortable. For example, two people of the same sub-class might order Peroni beers, eat high-end burgers, and discuss the White Stripes, while being physically repelled by hamburgers bought in vending machines and easy listening music. Preferences felt in everyone's bodies -- including in boughies' bodies -- help to maintain the social class structure. Therefore, the problem is not that the poor's "lack of social capital" or their "failing community," but rather the more affluent's opportunity hoarding in an attempt to maintain their class status in the face of feelings of insecurity for themselves and their families.

Gerson is correct that there is a poverty of solutions, but there is also a poverty of knowledge, knowledge about mechanisms of social inequality and knowledge about what the Occupy Movement might be offering as solutions.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Consumption Inequality in Ward 6

In an earlier post, I talked about the fact that DC, along with similarly disenfranchised Puerto Rico, has some of the highest levels of income inequality in the world. During the recession, as a Pew Research Center report showed, wealth inequality -- measured as assets (houses, cars, banking accounts, etc) minus debts (mortgages, auto loans, credit cards, etc) -- has continued to increase across the United States. Gentrification is often seen positively because it brings new resources into communities and thus decreases inequalities. But what if more wealthy people are, in fact, taking away resources from the less wealthy? What if consumption inequality seriously affects people's life chances?

Here are four trends in inequality:
  1. Most American households make much less than $100,000. According to the Census, in 2008, nearly 80% of American households made under $100,000. Only 8.3% of American households made $150,000 or more (Census).
  2. Wealthy people spend much more money. From the Bureau of Labor Statistics data below, we can see that those with the lowest incomes spend on average about $21,000 per year, while those with the highest incomes spend on average about $94,000 per year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics surveys consumers about how much they make and how much they spend on various items, like housing, clothing, tobacco, reading material, and so on. They divide the population into five groups of equal size (about 24 million people in each, which each represent 20% of the population), from those making the least income (see Lowest 20%) to those making the most income (see Highest 20%). In this table, I chose only three of these five groups (Lowest, Mid, and Highest). I show how much money they spent in 2009 in each category and the percentage this represents of their overall expenses, such as the lowest 20% spends more of their income (16.2%) on food than the highest 20% (11.4%). The differences in consumption are enormous.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer Expenditure Survey, 2009

Lowest 20%
Mid 20%
Highest 20%
Avg Expenditures
Food $3,501
16.2% $5,483 13.3% $10,78011.4%
Housing $8,961 41.5%
$14,805 36%
$2,238 10.4%
$3,574 8.7%
Apparel $873 4%
$1,402 3.4%
Transportation $2,855
$6,717 16.3%
Healthcare $1,628 7.5%
$3,069 7.5%
Personal Care
Personal pension/ins.

As we know, more money spent on healthcare and on education has real consequences for people's lives. More money spent on all these items has real consequences for life chances.

3. Markets are much more responsive to the wealthy, as can be seen in Ward 6 with the expansion of expensive restaurants and expensive housing
. Often these restaurants and housing replace older, less expensive establishments, leaving those with lower incomes with fewer or no options. In Ward 6, the Hawk and Dove is being replaced by "a locally-sourced, seasonal bistro menu prepared in an open kitchen," (translation: a more expensive restaurant); the fish place on Barracks Row was replaced by "vintage hot dog joint" DC-3; and the KFC on Pennsylvania Ave will be replaced by a new residential-retail building that won't likely be selling low-cost food or housing low-income families (at best, there might be one or two low-income elderly singles). With increasing demand by more wealthy people, who are generally less price sensitive, inflation results (Forbes magazine wrote about this trend in 2009), so housing, restaurant, and food prices are likely to continue to rise in the area.

4. Wealthy residents can purchase homes that provide them access to better schools and other benefits. Renters may have access to good schools, but, if their homes are sold as expensive condos or as private houses, the wealthy are often able to offer more money to buy these homes than many renters can, so the wealthy can also gain access to schools and other community benefits. Those displaced must move to areas that often do not have these good schools. The wealthy are practicing a form of opportunity hoarding.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Cooperatives and DC (III)

I've moved the map and list of DC cooperatives to a separate webpage. This webpage includes cooperatives in the great DC area.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Cooperatives and DC (II)

NPR's State of the Re:Union had a great piece on Cleveland and its community development experiments. In Segment B, they discuss the Evergreen Cooperatives, which are based on the Mondragon cooperative system in Spain (working since the 1950s).

These cooperatives are worker cooperatives (worker owned and controlled). As I discussed before, cooperatives are owned and controlled by their members. Cooperatives serve the needs of their members. There are different kinds of cooperatives, which are defined by their members. Evergreen Cooperatives are worker cooperatives, a cooperative organized by employees (the members) to finance, own, and democratically manage their business. Land O'Lakes is a producer cooperative, a cooperative organized by dairy farmers (the members) to market and distribute their dairy products. Best Western and ACE Hardware are purchasing cooperatives, cooperatives organized by businesses (the members) to share resources, lower costs, and be more competitive. Housing cooperatives are owned and controlled by their residents (the members). REI and the Takoma Park Silver Spring Food Co-op are consumer cooperatives, cooperatives organized by customers (the members). Each type of cooperative has a different kind of impact on community economies.

Here in DC:
  • Organizing Neighborhood Equity (ONE) DC is exploring the creation of a food consumer cooperative in Shaw. They are looking for values-aligned entrepreneurs and employees to join a team of people working on this project. At this stage they are looking for those with experience in the food business, grocery stores, and cooperatives. Does this describe you or anyone you know? Please reach out to Allison (I'll forward it to Allison: jbockman@gmu.edu) to explore this idea further.
  • Some people may be trying to create worker cooperatives in DC similar to the Evergreen Cooperatives. Is this true? Any news?
  • I need to somehow include in the cooperative map some more DC cooperatives: GreenWorks Construction Cooperative and Brighter Days dog walking collective.
Do you know of cooperatives being formed now? 

P.S. [6/6/2012] See the Co-op Directory and Co-op DC Group.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Gentrification on Capitol Hill (III)

GWU American Studies professor Suleiman Osman provides a slightly different take on the 1960s and 1970s from that of Anita Rechler, who focused on how real estate agents and the renovation movement created a more segregated Capitol Hill. In his fantastic book The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn: Gentrification and the Search for Authenticity in Postwar New York and great chapter in a different book "The Decade of the Neighborhood," Osman describes the exciting utopianism of the neighborhood revival movement, as well as its serious negatives. He studies Brooklyn, but this neighborhood movement emerged across the country, including on Capitol Hill. This neighborhood movement brought together a wide range of different groups: black power fighting the black political machine, civil rights and church groups, anti-poverty workers focused on decentralized community control (community action), white ethnic leaders angry about crime and independent of the Democratic machine, and especially "brownstoners," white college-educated house renovators. These groups came together around "neighborhood" and decentralized, community control to fight central city power: the old political machine (ward bosses) and the new machine that supported modernist urban renewal ("the New Deal pro-growth coalition of real estate agents, planners, business leaders, politicians, civic groups, and directors of nonprofit institutions"). On Capitol Hill, these groups fought the highway projects and formed the Capitol Hill Restoration Society. They reinterpreted "slums" as "neighborhoods" and created block associations, community-controlled schools, etc. Marion Barry emerged out of this movement as a representative of this attack on the political machine and a celebration of community and local empowerment.

Unfortunately, the different parts of this neighborhood movement came into contradiction and had a variety of consequences. The members of the neighborhood movement were no longer dissenters, but rather became powerful elites by the 1980s. Some of the white ethnic groups sought law-and-order political leaders who called for a "return" to communities before African Americans had arrived. Neighborhoodism also hurt the poor and the neighborhoods they celebrated:
But in their populist battle against bureaucracy, neighborhood activists attacked municipal programs, public housing, integration initiatives, and affordable chain stores that poorer residents depended on. And by rejecting all forms of government planning and by lionizing voluntarism and private space, the "decade of the neighborhood" unleashed the unfettered real estate market that 1980s activists complained about.
This was not the cooptation of the movement, but the movement itself had conservative elements and conservative consequences. Did this happen in Ward 6?